Investing in our most vulnerable: Dal researcher studies COVID‑19 impact on aging Canadians

- October 1, 2020

Images from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA photos)
Images from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA photos)

On Thursday, October 1, Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) announced its support for a new SARS-CoV-2 study focused on aging Canadians, a population that has been shown to be at greatest risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19 disease.  This involves a $4 million investment, which will be carried out by the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a national platform for research on aging in Canada, led by McMaster University.

The CLSA's COVID-19 Seroprevalence Study will collect and analyze blood samples from more than 19,000 CLSA participants in 10 provinces. In addition to providing blood samples, participants will complete a questionnaire that collects information on symptoms, risks factors, health-care use, and the psychosocial and economic impacts of COVID-19. Linking the results about the presence of antibodies and other immune markers obtained from the blood sample analyses to the CLSA's questionnaire findings will paint a more comprehensive picture of the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and the impact of COVID-19 among older adults in Canada.

“As we have seen, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is impacting different regions of the country in different ways,” says Dr. Susan Kirkland (pictured), professor and head of the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie, and co-principal investigator on the study.

“In the Atlantic region we have had the protection of the Atlantic bubble, but this means that it is likely that a greater proportion of our population is still at risk of becoming infected. We also have a greater proportion of older adults with underlying chronic conditions than in some other parts of the country.”

“Assessing the proportion of people who have developed antibodies to the virus, combined with information about sociodemographic characteristics, symptoms, testing, health and behaviours will allow us to better understand symptomatic and asymptomatic infections and immunity. The CLSA is an ongoing national study that can play a key role in gathering this information from Canadians and help us to prepare for future waves.”

The study, which will launch this fall, is headed up by Lead Principal Investigator, Dr. Parminder Raina, of McMaster University (Hamilton). The co-principal investigator, along with Dr. Kirkland, is Dr. Christina Wolfson (McGill University, Montreal). A national team of researchers will also be involved.  

“Protecting individuals at high risk of severe outcomes, including aging Canadians, is a top priority in our ongoing management of COVID-19 in Canada," says Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. "Older individuals are at risk of more severe illness due to their age and other underlying medical conditions. Improving our understanding of immunity among high risk populations will allow us to plan and target our public health approaches.”

More information about the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging can be found here.


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